What Are Job Accommodations?

The U.S. Department of Labor defines a job accommodation as “an adjustment to a job or work environment that makes it possible for an individual with a disability to perform their job duties.” An accommodation or job modification is a way employers can help an employee with a disability obtain the same privileges or benefits other employees do. Accommodations are not a way for an employee to receive special treatment. The accommodation should be reasonable, meaning it must not cause undue hardship for an employer.

Why Are Job Accommodations Important?

Job accommodations are important because they make it possible for an employee to perform the essential functions of their job. There are several reasons why job accommodations are important for both employees and employers.

Importance for Employees

Job accommodations are important for employees with disabilities because they allow them to perform job duties, protect them from discrimination, and increase their overall productivity in their role.

  • Perform job duties. Accommodations enable employees with disabilities to perform the essential functions of their job through adjustments made by an employer. This can vary from job to job, but employees should still be hired and allowed to work based on their performance and qualifications, not their disability.
  • Protection from discrimination. The ADA prohibits discrimination against those with disabilities in employment. It is unlawful to discriminate against an employee with a disability. It is unlawful for an employer to refuse to continue employing an employee based on their request for a reasonable accommodation to fulfill their job functions.
  • Increase productivity. Job accommodations are typically low cost but can have a large impact on the productivity of a disabled employee. They are able to meet and exceed goals, have greater focus and be more engaged. This can also result in reduced stress.

Importance for Employers

There are several reasons employers should approve reasonable job accommodations. These include higher retention, increased morale, better culture, and reduced training costs.

  • Higher retention. A survey reported that 90% of employers said the primary reason they offer job accommodations is to retain valuable employees. Making minor changes to a work environment, accommodating a flexible schedule, or restructuring a work site can make a big difference in your efforts to retain employees. High retention rates help reduce productivity loss, which can also contribute to higher engagement. Accommodations can even affect an employee’s relationships with customers.
  • Better morale and culture. When employers create work environments that are conducive for inclusiveness and diversity through accommodations, they demonstrate to their staff that they care. This increases trust along with improving morale and workplace culture.
  • Reduced training costs. It takes time and money to train new employees. By taking the time to listen, understand and respond to reasonable accommodations, you can greatly reduce the training costs associated with hiring new employees. You can keep your current staff doing what they do best by performing essential job functions.

Types of Job Accommodations

It can help to understand potential job accommodations an employee may ask you for. Here are several accommodations you can familiarize yourself with. They pertain to remote work, the work environment and flexible scheduling.

Remote Work

Not all employees with a disability want to work from home or telework, but some may prefer to do so if they have a health condition. Remote work is a growing benefit that could allow an employee with a disability to perform their job off-site without causing the company undue hardship. If the essential functions of a job cannot be performed remotely, this may not be an option.

Work Equipment and Environment

Ergonomic chairs, standing desks, text-to-speech technology, a wheel chair ramp or suitable lighting are all examples of accommodations for an employee’s work equipment or environment. A reserved parking pass could also be provided in certain situations. These are all important aspects of a job that could make a big difference. If an employee has back issues, is unable to sit for long periods of time, or is in a wheelchair, it’s important to take their request seriously, analyze what solutions the company could (or should) provide and follow up to present a solution.

Work Schedule and Responsibilities

A flexible work schedule could also be an option for an employee who needs to step away from their work station throughout the day. If an employee has trouble walking distances, an accommodation could move them to a work area where resources are more easily accessible. Others could include modifying a work schedule or offering reduced hours or part-time work. If an employee has difficulty performing their job duties, they can request an accommodation to modify them without causing undue hardship on an employer.

Best Practices for Employers to Handle Job Accommodation Requests

When you receive a request for a job accommodation, it’s important to analyze the request, plan the accommodation and notify the employee. It’s also important to document everything.

Analyze the Request

You need to make sure that the employee is covered under ADA. Does your company have 15 or more employees? If yes, you are covered under ADA. Refer to your existing policies, procedures and the job description. Evaluate if the job description includes all requirements of the job and determine if the employee has a disability that is covered under ADA.

Plan the Accommodation

The type of accommodation may depend on the particular limitations of the employee’s disability. If the accommodation causes undue hardship on your company, suggest alternatives to reach common ground. The majority of accommodations are not costly. Obtaining a verification from a medical professional is also important to ensure the accommodation provided will not place further burdens on the employee or make matters worse.

Notify and Document

Once you’ve made your plan, let the employee know of the approved accommodation and be sure to document everything, including the start date, details of the accommodation, medical information and other relative information. Keep these documents in a separate file from their personnel folder to follow the confidentiality requirements by the ADA. 

Examples of Job Accommodations

Once an employee requests an accommodation, it’s important to follow up with them with the company’s decision. The following examples detail several job accommodations that could be requested.

Work From Home Arrangement

Remote work has become common recently and has allowed many employees with disabilities to continue performing their jobs. For example, during a health pandemic, an employee with a respiratory disability is advised by their doctor to stay at home. If your company receives this kind of request, you’ll need to analyze it and determine if the employee can perform the essential job functions remotely. Then possibly modify job duties, verify the solution with their medical professional and present the solution.

Physical Limitations

In this example, you have an employee with a physical disability that prevents them from walking long distances. You might consider offering them a parking pass that is close to the entrance or placing them in a location that reduces their amount of walking. If they work on a line, could  they perform their job while sitting in a chair or having a chair nearby for intermittent breaks? If they have weight lifting restrictions, could you place them on a different projects that requires less weight lifting?

Sign Language Interpreter

Depending on the job being performed, a sign language interpreter could be requested by a deaf employee. This example would likely come up during the initial interview process. If not, it can still be discussed at any time during employment. If an employee does need a sign language interpreter and can still perform the essential functions of their job, one should be provided.